Monday, July 27, 2009

Camping for Dummies

I annually torture my friends by organizing camping trips in mid-November. The nights are brutally cold (especially when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), the days are spent collecting & chopping wood, and washing dishes couldn't be anymore hand numbing. I was recently invited to go camping in the unthought of season of Summer. I had my reservations - I'd gone "cabining" at Sebago Cabins a couple of years ago in May and we were plagued by mosquitoes and gnats. We camped at Mongaup Pond in Livingston Manor in Upstate NY and it was a nice change of pace compared to our old campsite (Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY). The campsite was lakeside, had showers (a first for me), and they had canoes/kayaks/rowboats rentals available. We went with a friend's family who have been camping for 20 years. They came with a pop-up trailer (which proved invaluable in the rain) and set up an impressive kitchen stadium area with a huge grill and numerous burners. The menu featured raviolis with meat sauce, ribs, sausage, lamb, and french toast on the last day. The thing that I enjoyed the most was that their entire family was present: from pets to kids to grandparents. Now, I'm trying to organize a family camping trip - let's hope my power of persuasion works.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's in Your Golf Bag?

I took up golf five years ago after starting my current job. It helps facilitate business and it doesn't hurt being out of the office, getting some sun, and drinking all day. Let's be honest, if shark feeding was a corporate event, I'd probably take it up to get out of the office too. I've never broken 100 (70% of golfers never have either), but its a satisfying game when everything is going right. Here's a look at the 14 clubs in my bag:

Club# 1) TaylorMade R360XD 10.5 degrees (regular flex): "old faithful" - its my first and most consistent driver.
Club# 2) TaylorMade R9 9.5 degrees (regular flex): I won it at a golf outing, but its not consistent enough to unseat "old faithful" just yet.
Club# 3) TaylorMade V Steel 3 Wood 15 degrees (regular flex): I bought it right before I played Pinehurst to get away from using the lower irons in my bag.
Club# 4) King Cobra Baffler DWS 3 Rescue Club 20 degrees (regular flex): I love this club. Its great out of the rough, off the fairway, and long par 3's.
Club# 5-12) Cleveland TA5 Irons 3-9 PW: I'm very hit or miss with my irons. I'm bringing my hands in more and swinging slower for better contact.
Club #13) Cleveland Sandwedge Tour Action 588 56 degrees: Its not the arrow, its the Indian. Sometimes I'm great out of the sand and sometimes I'm playing tennis back and forth with myself over the green.
Club #14) Odyssey White Hot #5: I've got stone hands around the green and this putter doesn't help. I'm considering upgrading to the Odyssey Sabretooth before the season ends (I love the offsetting weight in it).

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barcelona Nights

Comparing Madrid and Barcelona is like comparing night and day. Madrid is the "royal" cosmopolitan capital of Spain. Barcelona is gritty, raw, and independent since it preserved its Catalan identity. The city is defined by its Gaudi architecture (the unfinished Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, La Pedrera) and La Rambla, the tree-lined pedestrian walkway which connects Placa Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument in Port Vell. La Rambla is packed 24 hours lined with its "people watching" restaurants, stores, and street performers. At night, the rose peddlers, guys selling loose beer for a euro, and prostitutes monopolize the walkway. Barcelona definitely takes some time to grow on you, but its charming narrow alleys (Barri Gotic neighborhood), the waterfront with its beaches & Rambla de Mar (boardwalk), and the view from the top of Palau Nacional definitely win you over.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No Reservations: Madrid & Barcelona

One of the highlights of my trip to Spain was all of the food. The tapas, pinchos (small sandwiches), and fresh seafood helped facilitate drinking because they satisfy your appetite without making you feel full. The sangria was hit or miss (depending if it was watered down by Sprite or club soda), but the cava (spanish "champagne") and wines (rioja and rueda) went well with everything. I even tried a few new things like gazpacho, sardines, octopus, cuttlefish (squid family), and crayfish (mini lobsters). Here are a few places I checked out and recommend:

Madrid Restaurants
- Botin (near Plaza Mayor): Its the oldest restaurant in the world (1725). Their specialty is suckling pig made in a wood fired overn.
- Chocolateria San Gines (near Puerta del Sol): You have to get their churros and hot chocolate thats so thick, it can support the weight of a spoon.
- Vinoteca Barbechera (Plaza de Santa Ana): You have to try their pinchos sampler - I was addicted to their curry chicken pincho.
- La Fragua de Vulcano (near Plaza de Santa Ana): Good paella and amazing service (you could tell our server loved working there).
- Mercat de San Miguel (outside of Plaza Mayor): Great market with a dine-in area with wine, cheese, pastries, etc. Its open late and always lively.

Barcelona Restaurants
- El Rey de la Gamba (Port Vell): Fresh seafood since the Mediterranean Sea is right there. The crayfish were a chore to eat, but getting the meat out of the shell made it worth it.
- Pita House or Brasil (Las Ramblas): Perfect for people watching, they serve 1 liter beers & sangria, and the tapas are tasty.
- Luz de Gas (on a boat on Port Vell): Located on the marina and they serve good tapas and seafood.
- Mercat de la Boqueria (Las Ramblas): One word: heaven. They have the freshest produce, seafood, meats, cheese, and lunch counters. I feel in love with their fruit smoothies with every possible fruit combination: kiwi, banana, coconut, papaya, mango, etc. (TIP: The smoothies are 2 for 1 at the end of the day).

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Real Madrid

I just came back from a vacation in Spain and it really blew my mind. It almost seemed like 10 days wasn't enough - I divided it between Madrid and Barcelona and there was still so many places left to see: Sevilla, Costa Del Sol, Ibiza, Granada, and Pamplona (I originally planned to go to San Fermin to Run with the Bulls, but there were no available hotel rooms and the train schedule didn't cooperate). I absolutely fell in love with Madrid: the food, drinks, music, people watching, and lifestyle (siesta anyone?). Madrid is a nice mix of metropolitan, historical, sophistication, relaxed/laid back, and a touch of hustle and bustle (Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor are constantly active). I stayed at the Westin Palace which is centrally located and within minutes of the major sites: Prado Museum, Plaza de la Cibeles, Puerta de Alcala, Parque del Retiro, Palacio Real, etc. Everyday began the same: awake at 10am, eat breakfast, sight seeing until 2pm, eat a nice lunch with bottle(s) of wine / pitcher(s) of sangria, siesta until 9pm, dinner around 10pm, bounce from place to place drinking/people watching, and repeat. Jet lag never set in and everything was informal (no dress codes and no rush to close out your bill in restaurants). Unless I find a better city, Madrid may be where I hang it up when I call it quits.

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